“First, all my Christian friends got married, and I didn’t. Now, all my non-Christian friends are getting married too. I’ve felt out of sync with one group for ages. Now I feel out of sync with both.”
These were the words of a good friend as we reflected together on the changing experience of being single. While each season brings its specific joys and challenges, for many of us, the mid to late twenties mark a transition where we stop assuming marriage will probably happen someday and start to feel like time is running out.
Each birthday and new year brings with it a growing sense of sadness, or a rising tide of panic. This is especially true for women, whose bodies contain a biological clock with the digits 3-0 blinking in red. We figure that if we are ever going to be a mother, we had better get our ducks in a row (or our man to the altar) soon.
Will I Always Be Single?
As “When I get married . . .” becomes “If I get married . . .” there lurks a fear: What if I never get married? What if I’m single forever?
The rest of our life stretches before us like a timeline, and as we consider the future, we’re full of wistful if-onlys and fearful what-ifs. How will I cope financially? Where will I spend the holidays? Who will choose my care home? Will I always feel this lonely? What about when all my friends start having kids (and then grandkids)?
When looking down the timeline fills us with dread, it’s time to shift our gaze. Lamentations 3:22–23 tells us,
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
Far from being unloved, unchosen, and undesirable, single Christians are treasured by God with a steadfast love that never ceases. He’s shown us that love by sending his Son to die for us (Romans 5:8). His mercies are now new every morning. Contentment with our singleness isn’t a status that we arrive at and then bask in for the rest of our lives. It’s something we depend on the Lord for each day.
Can I Be Content Today?
A single missionary I once met said she asked herself this: “Can I be content being single today?” That’s the question any unmarried Christian needs to return to: Can you be content with being single today? Not with still being single tomorrow, or next Christmas (or Valentine’s Day), or when you’re 30 or 40 — but just today.
“If you can be content being single today, you can be content being single tomorrow when it becomes today.”
When I consider my singleness on only today’s terms, it feels a lot less frightening. I have a God who knows me, hears me, and loves me. I have his promises to enjoy and speak back to him. And I have handfuls of gifts from his hand: a church family, friends, a home, a job. I’m okay.
If you can be content being single today, you can be content being single tomorrow when it becomes today — and the day after that, and all the days that follow. Why? Because God’s mercies are new every morning. He will be tomorrow all that you need him to be. In thirty years’ time, he will be faithful. In fifty years’ time, he will not fail you. Whether you’re single or married, God will prove himself faithful — day after day after day.
Look Past Tomorrow
And yet, the truth is that contentment with our singleness isn’t really the aim. Perhaps, like me, you read verses like 1 Corinthians 7:38 with an air of disbelief: “He who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.” Really, Paul, we think. How can that be?!
What would it take for us to believe that single could really be better? It seems that what most of us are missing is not some insight that Paul has on the states of marriage and singleness themselves, but his perspective on time: “This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. . . . For the present form of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:29, 31).
This world is on borrowed time. A day is coming when Christ is going to return and renew creation completely — and that day is soon. Until then, the thing that matters most is making sure that we are ready for it, and helping others to be ready for it too. Paul’s radical logic in the rest of the chapter is that being single puts us in a unique position to do that.
A Different Horizon
Unmarried Christians don’t need to focus primarily on becoming more content with our singleness. We need to be more convinced that “the present form of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31). We need to be so consumed with this coming reality that whether we’re single or married just doesn’t matter that much.
“I can look down at my present, look past my tomorrow, and trust God with the days in between.”
Contentment won’t come from staring at the fact of our singleness but from lifting our eyes to a different horizon — beyond the what-ifs and if-onlys of the next few decades to the wonderful certainty that is thundering toward us. Even the best marriage is only ever a picture of what lies ahead for every Christian. It points to a time when the bride of Christ, the church, is brought to meet her groom and enjoy a truly permanent relationship of love and intimacy with him (Revelation 19:6–9).
The prospect of a future of singleness fills me with fear. But when that anxiety looms large, I can look down at my present, look past my tomorrow, and trust God with the days in between.